In America, the Legislative Branch consists of Congress, who is tasked with writing the law of the country. These social studies lesson plans will explore how Congress’s function and history with a variety of creative storyboarding activities.
By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!
When the Founding Fathers established the American government, they made a system of checks and balances so no one part of the government would have too much power. There are three branches of government: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. The Legislative Branch was intended to make laws, the Executive Branch to enforce laws, and the Judicial Branch to judge laws.
In this teacher guide, students will develop a strong understanding for the purpose of the Legislative Branch of government and how it impacts them on a daily basis. Students develop a closer connection to the law-making process and recognize why the law-making process can be so difficult in our very diverse society.
Essential Questions for The Legislative Branch
What purpose does the Legislative Branch serve?
What is the role of Congress?
How does the Legislative Branch improve our society?
How does our Congress represent the people?
The Legislative Branch Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers
In this activity, students will represent the process of how a bill becomes a law. Students will recognize that the laws being passed in Congress begin as ideas from society. They will then take the complex legislative process and make it much easier to understand with a visualization on their storyboards.
How a Bill Becomes a Law
Idea For Law Is Created
Someone comes up with an idea for a bill. This person can be anyone, from a child to the president!
Idea is Brought to Representative
The idea for the bill is brought to a member of Congress and a bill is written. If a senator writes the bill, the bill will then be sent to a committee in the Senate, and vice versa if the bill was written by a member of the House of Representatives.
Bill is Introduced to Committee
The bill is introduced to a committee in the House of Representatives where members of the committee debate and amend the bill.
Bill is Voted Upon in House of Origin
If the committee accepts the bill, it is then voted upon in the House of Representatives.
Bill is sent to other House
If the bill is passed in the House of Representatives, it is then introduced in the Senate.
Bill is Voted Upon in the Other House
The bill is presented to the Senate, where it is debated and then voted upon.
Bill is Sent to the President
If the bill passes in the Senate, it is then sent to the President.
President Contemplates Options
The President will read the bill. He then has a few options of how to address the bill:
President Agrees With Bill
The President may agree with the bill, sign it, and the bill will become a law.
President Uses the Pocket Veto
If the President doesn’t sign the bill within 10 days and Congress is NOT IN SESSION, the bill will not become a law. This is known as a “pocket veto”.
President Doesn't Sign While Congress is in Session, or He Vetoes
If the President doesn’t sign the bill within 10 days and Congress is IN SESSION, the bill will become a law.
If the President doesn’t agree with the law, he can veto the bill, and it will be sent back to Congress.
Congressional Override of Veto
The bill will be voted upon in Congress again and if ⅔ of Congress votes in favor of the bill, it will become a law. If less than ⅔ of the Congress vote in favor, the bill dies.
Extended Activity After students have displayed their understanding of the legislative process, their extended activity will be to create a timeline that represents the story of a law that was passed in Congress at some point in American history. Students will be able to define where the initial idea for the law came from and represent how each step occurred on the bill’s way to becoming a law.
[ELA-Literacy/RH/9-10/1] Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
[ELA-Literacy/RH/9-10/2] Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
In this activity, students are required to research and analyze a congressional bill. Students will create a Frayer Model that visualizes a bill or resolution in either the U.S Senate or House of Representatives. The title of their storyboard should be “Legislative Bill Analysis” and the following questions should be answered in corresponding boxes of their storyboard.
Click on “Browse By Bill Number” and choose one of the House or Senate lists
(Optional) Using the search bar to find a topic of interest
Additional Information: In order to successfully accomplish this activity, teachers should browse the website beforehand to comfortably navigate the bills and resolutions page. Teachers should reinforce that most bills are created in order to either solve a problem or facilitate a facet of society. As the website is constantly updated with new bills and resolutions, teachers should encourage students to avoid certain bills (giving permission for a champion sports team to see the President of the United States, for example) and encourage them to find a bill or resolution that is truly geared at improving society.
Students will create a timeline that represents the major events that have occurred throughout the rich history of the United States Congress. Students may research events on their own, or the teacher can provide a list. For each event, students should include a brief description of the event along with a representation of the person, idea, law, or controversy that occurred at the chosen date.
March 4, 1789
First United States Congress
The first United States Congress met in New York City. Due to the long distances that representatives had to travel to reach New York, the first Congress was delayed for weeks before the first quorum was reached.
December 15th, 1791
Bill of Rights Ratified
The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and were designed to protect citizens' individual freedoms such as the freedom of speech, religion, and assembly.
September 18th, 1793
In Washington, D.C., the final brick of the Capitol building was placed by George Washington. The building has become an American landmark due to its historical achievements and architectural beauty.
April 30th, 1803
Congress purchased the Louisiana territory from France. Known as the “greatest real estate deal” in U.S. history, Congress agreed to pay $11,250,000 for 828,000 square miles of land.
May 30, 1864
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act promoted “popular sovereignty” among new states being admitted to the Union. This required new states to independently decide if the state should allow slavery. This resulted in conflicts between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists, eventually resulting in the Civil War.
December 6, 1865
13th Amendment Ratified
The U.S. Congress passed the 13th Amendment which outlawed slavery throughout the United States. This law was passed eight months following the conclusion of the Civil War, and finally brought an end to a long and bloody battle over slavery in America.
June 30, 1906
Crisis Finally Ends
In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prohibited harmful and mislabeled food and drugs. This law protected citizens from the consumption of numerous harmful and contaminated products.
August 26, 1920
19th Amendment Ratified
In 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment guaranteed women the right to vote. This amendment was the culmination of almost a century of women suffragists' work.
July 2, 1964
Crisis Finally Ends
The Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin from all public places. It also ended the segregation of schools, and made employment discrimination illegal.
Extended Activity After students have created their timeline of events, students can complete the extended activity for the remaining two events. Depending on the teacher preference, students can choose the following options for the additional events.
The greatest law passed by Congress
The most infamous law passed by Congress
The greatest Congressman or Congresswoman
The most infamous Congressman or Congresswoman
An event that predicts the future of Congress or a law that they predict will be passed in their lifetime.
Students will use a Frayer Model to create a storyboard that defines and represents the vocabulary and terminology related to the Legislative Branch. Students define the term in the description box and create a corresponding visualization of each defined vocabulary term. This will provide tools for understanding and discussing the legislature in this and other lessons.
Legislative Branch Vocabulary List (Suggested Terms)
Here, students will be a member of a Classroom Congress where they will simulate the legislative process with their own bills. Each student will be a member of either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Students will create their own law that they would like to see implemented in society. Students are required to create a name for their bill, define the problem or issue the bill is addressing, and summarize how their bill will fix or solve the problem. Depending on the time available, teachers can have students simply draft the bills on Storyboard That or use the extended activity to simulate the Classroom Congress.
Name of the Bill and Description
The bill that I propose is the "End of The Exam" bill. This bill would prohibit the mandatory use of exams in schools, and allow students to complete alternate assessments to display their knowledge.
What Problem is the Bill Addressing
This bill is addressing the problem that students face with major exams. Certain students struggle to recall months of information, and because of this, their grades are significantly damaged.
How Does The Bill Fix the Problem?
Creating alternative options to exams may help students display their knowledge in new and exciting ways. Alternative Options:
Make a Storyboard
Film a Movie
Write a Paper
Extended Activity Following the creation of the student proposals for law, the class will simulate the Classroom Congress. The first step in this process will be to divide the class into both the House of Representatives or the Senate. The Senate group should be smaller than the House, if practical. After the students have been divided into the House and the Senate, students will present their bills to their smaller groups. If class size is an issue and these groups are too large, the teacher may divide the Senate and the House into smaller committees so each student has the opportunity to present their storyboard bill to one another.
Once the students have presented to their groups, the Senate and the House will vote on whether they wish to pass the laws. If the majority of the group approves of the law, the law will then be proposed to the other house for approval. If both the classroom Senate and the House approve of the law, then the class can either have the teacher or student be the President of the United States with the power to sign or veto the bill. Following the steps of the “How a Bill Becomes A Law” activity, students will be able to know what steps come next if the President vetos the bill.
For teachers that use this activity with more than one class, they may create a list of the laws that are being passed in each class and allow the other classes to vote on their bills. Depending on the approved new law and the decisions of the teacher, if the law is appropriate for class they may “enforce” the new student-created law in the class!